The plus-size movement is gaining popularity. It’s always been a fact of life for those actually wearing the clothes, but brands and retailers are finally waking up to the reality that not all women’s figures are compatible with sample sizes.
The U.S. plus-size market is estimated to be worth $20.4 billion, and the average woman is thought to wear between a size 12 and a size 14. However, the use of plus-size models has only recently picked up pace in traditional and online advertising campaigns.
Ashley Graham, arguably one of the most well-known plus-size models of today, appeared on Sports Illustrated’s 2016 swimsuit cover, a major shift from its usual choice of slim models. Aerie, the American Eagle-owned lingerie and intimate apparel, and Of Mercer are two additional brands that have adopted extended sizes — and rather than keep those sizes buried away under a tab on a website, they’re using plus-size models to promote their apparel. More brands are beginning to do the same.
For Glossy’s latest Confessions, in which we grant anonymity in exchange for honesty, we spoke to a plus-size model who said that change needs to come from designers as they are the ones creating sample sizes. She said that more awareness is also needed as a number of people in the industry are still unsure how to style and fit larger models.
What defines a plus-size model?
I’m anywhere between a size 10 and a size 14, which is one of my biggest problems. I can do swimwear and lingerie, but I can be too small for plus-size brands and way too big for regular modeling. That can be hard because I’m healthy, and I don’t want to lose weight or put it on.
Do girls purposely put on weight?
I know of people who will eat loads of ice cream to keep their measurements if their agency tells them to. That’s great, until six months later when they feel horrible about themselves. It’s the same thing when models starve themselves — you’re not going to look healthy and natural.
What’s your experience been?
Sometimes I’ll go into an agency and they’ll say, “Great! Your measurements are up.” It’s not like, “Oh, you’ve missed the gym this week,” it’s, “Yeah, you’ve got some extra junk in the trunk.” It’s really weird. My agent has never told me to change anything about myself. I’ve been lucky. But I’ve definitely had praise if I’m carrying a bit more weight. Once I did get smaller, and I lost a lot of jobs because of it.
That must be frustrating.
It is. And so padding has become a contentious topic in the industry.
Some plus-size models wear foam pads on their hips and boobs or a pair of shorts with foam inserts to castings in order to appear bigger than they are. I’ve been to a casting where they wanted a full size 16, which I’m not, so I wore all my padding.
Is that common?
It’s quite common. Some people are really against it, which I understand—and I’m trying to justify whether I’m comfortable doing it. The only way I can justify it is by comparing it to straight-size girls who are expected to be one size: a size four. We’re expected to fit a 10-to-12 and a 16-to-18, and no one can be all of those. So sometimes you have to do it to get work. I’d never wear padding for a job that wasn’t commercial, though—like if it was for an editorial or body activism shoot.
What kinds of shoots do you find yourself doing?
Most of the jobs I do are for e-commerce and online. Those shoots are a bit more boring than the campaign jobs on location, at the beach. Those are the really glamorous ones.
Are there any differences between plus-size models and other models at shoots?
Sometimes a stylist may not know what to do with your size. Other models might be a bit uncomfortable because they’re not used to seeing girls bigger than they are. Most of the time, we’re treated as equals, but sometimes people don’t know what to do—especially fashion industry veterans who’ve been around for 20 years. They’re like, “What, who are you?”
What about pay?
We don’t hear a whole lot about it, but I know there are certain brands that pay smaller girls a lot more. I don’t know whether it is to do with their experience or whether “straight size” modeling is seen as more important. It’s not the case with all brands, but there is a gap with some.
How much are you talking?
Thousands, and double the amount in certain instances. For example, I heard there was one big retailer in the U.K. where a plus-size model was paid about £1500 ($1,900) for a day’s e-commerce shoot. A popular, smaller girl was paid £3500 ($4,400). The smaller girl may have been a regular model for the brand and had her pay raised that way, but it’s hard to know—and it doesn’t make you feel valued.
What’s needed to make plus-size modeling a regular occurrence?
It comes down to making bigger sample sizes in fashion houses. Instead of a size four, they could make it in an eight or a 10. It’s not necessarily that magazines or editors want to exclude bigger girls, but they don’t have the clothes that fit bigger girls. It’s like a chain effect. If fashion houses create something bigger, there’s more flexibility.
Has social media played a role in the rise of plus-size modeling?
It’s really taken off recently due to social media. In the past, plus-size modeling meant that you were in your 40s wearing a kaftan. Plus-size girls are now shooting fashion and beauty editorials for Cosmopolitan and Glamour, which may never have looked at the curve board before. There’s now this power that plus-size girls have that they may not have had three or four years ago.
Designers are beginning to embrace using plus-size models on the runway. Does this help move the conversation forward?
When plus-size models appear on the runway, it’s seen as a “wow factor” and a one off, so it’s not the norm. When it becomes the norm, that means it’s working. But a lot of the time it’s not a size 10 girl—it’s bigger girls and much smaller girls. So it’s a step, but it’s still quite divisive.